Saint John Damascene

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and indoorSaint John Damascene

Doctor of the Church

Saint John was born in the late 7th century, and is the most remarkable of the Greek writers of the 8th century. His father was a civil authority who was Christian amid the Saracens of Damascus, whose caliph made him his minister. This enlightened man found in the public square one day, amid a group of sad Christian captives, a priest of Italian origin who had been condemned to slavery; he ransomed him and assigned him to his young son to be his tutor. Young John made extraordinary progress in grammar, dialectic, mathematics, music, poetry, astronomy, but above all in theology, the discipline imparting knowledge of God. John became famous for his encyclopedic knowledge and theological method, later a source of inspiration to Saint Thomas Aquinas.

When his father died, the caliph made of him his principal counselor, his Grand Vizier. Thus it was through Saint John Damascene that the advanced sciences made their apparition among the Arab Moslems, who had burnt the library of Alexandria in Egypt; it was not the Moslems who instructed the Christians, as was believed for some time in Europe. Saint John vigorously opposed the ferocious Iconoclast persecution instigated by the Emperor of Constantinople, Leo the Isaurian. He distinguished himself, with Saint Germain, Patriarch of Constantinople, in the defense of the veneration of sacred images.

The Emperor, irritated, himself conjured up a plot against him. A letter was forged, signed with Saint John’s name, and addressed to himself, the Emperor of Constantinople, offering to deliver up the city of Damascus to him. That letter was then transmitted by the Emperor to the Caliph of Damascus, advising him as a good neighbor should do, that he had a traitor for minister. Although Saint John vigorously defended himself against the charge, he was condemned by the Caliph to have his right hand cut off. The severed hand, by order of the Caliph, was attached to a post in a public square. But Saint John obtained the hand afterwards, and invoked the Blessed Virgin in a prayer which has been preserved; he prayed to be able to continue to write the praises of Her Son and Herself. The next morning when he awoke, he found his hand joined again to the arm, leaving no trace of pain, but only a fine red line like a bracelet, marking the site of the miracle.

The Saint was reinstated afterwards to the favor of the local prince, but he believed that heaven had made it clear he was destined to serve the Church by his writings. He therefore distributed his property and retired soon thereafter to the monastery of Saint Sabas near Jerusalem, where he spent most of his remaining years in apologetic writings and prayer. Occasionally he left to console the Christians of Syria and Palestine and strengthen them, even going to Constantinople in the hope of obtaining martyrdom there. However, he was able to return to his monastery. There he died in peace at the age of 104, and was buried near the door of the monastery church, in the year 780.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5; The Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by C. G. Herbermann with numerous collaborators (Appleton Company: New York, 1908).


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The Church’s Year
By Rev. Fr. Leonard Goffine

LESSON (Isai. L. 5-10.) In those days, Isaias said: The Lord God hath opened my ear, and I do not resist: I have not gone back. I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me. The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded. He is near that justifieth me, who will contend with me? Let us stand together, who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold the, Lord God is my helper: who is he that shall condemn me? Lo they shall all be destroyed as a garment, the moth shall eat them up. Who is there among you that feareth the Lord, that heareth the voice of his servant? Let him that hath walked in darkness, and bath no light, hope in the name of the Lord, and lean upon his God.

EXPLANATION All the holy Fathers agree that Isaias here prophesies of Christ, who in accordance with His Father’s will, gave Himself up without uttering one word of complaint to the most, ignominious sufferings for us, and strengthened by divine assistance, patiently submitted to all the blows, torments, and insults of His enemies. But they did not escape just punishment, for their guilty consciences devoured them interiorly, as a moth consumes a garment, and the memory of them disappeared from the earth. Let us put our trust in God, if, with Christ, we are surrounded by sufferings and distress, finding no help, for He will be our Redeemer and our Helper.

GOSPEL (John XII. 1-9.) Now Jesus, six days before the Pasch, came to Bethania, where Lazarus had been dead, whom Jesus raised to life. And they made him a supper there: and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of them that were at table with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him said: Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor, but be­cause he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein.

Jesus therefore said: Let her alone, that she may keep it against the day of my burial, for the poor you have always with you: but me you have not always. A great multitude therefore of the Jews knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’s sake only, but that they might see Lazarus, whom he, had raised from the dead.

INSTRUCTION We should also, like Mary Magdalen, anoint the Saviour by diligently performing good works, and thus become, as the holy Apostle says, a good odor unto Christ. (II Cor. II. 15.) The conduct of the traitor Judas should serve us as a warning not to be carried away by attachment to temporal riches, to avarice, and by it to greater crimes. Judas did not become a great sinner at once, he loved money and so grew cold to the love of God; seduced by avarice, he became a miser, a traitor to his Master and a suicide. Strive, therefore, to suppress your evil inclinations at the moment of their commencement, that they may not bring you into sin, and render you miserable like Judas.